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Monday
Jun202011

Wildfires Ravage 6 States: Ariz., Texas, Calif., N.M., Colo. and Ga.

This Landsat 5 satellite image of the Wallow North Fire in east central Arizona shows the burn scar in red; the fire ongoing in really bright red; vegetation in green; smoke in blue; and bare ground in tan.
Credit: NASA/USGS, Mike Taylor
(SIERRA VISTA, Ariz.) -- About 10,000 Arizonans have been forced to flee from their homes as wildfires continue to consume wide swaths of the southwestern United States on Monday. Three dozen fires are raging across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California, as well as Texas and Georgia, forcing additional evacuations and slowing traffic to a crawl as highways in the path of the firestorms are closed.

Walls of flames have reached 10 feet in some areas and have burned more than 1.2 million acres.

"I feared for my husband and my animals [and] for the air quality," June Carter, an Arizona evacuee, told ABC News.

More than 700 firefighters have come from across the country to battle what has become known as the Monument Fire south of the city of Sierra Vista, Ariz., which has been burning since last week.

The Wallow blaze, in eastern Arizona, has consumed 519,319 acres, as more than 3,500 firefighters attempt to defend against its advance. Despite its size, the fire has only destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins. Containment rose to 51 percent Sunday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., came under verbal fire Monday for partly blaming the fire on illegal immigrants.

"There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally," McCain said Saturday at a news conference. "The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border."

A U.S. Forest Service spokesman, speaking of the Wallow Fire in Arizona, said there's no evidence it was caused by immigrants. McCain's office said Monday that he was talking about fires in general, not just the Wallow Fire, and that there is evidence smugglers and illegal immigrants have caused fires on the southern U.S. border while camping or traveling.

The other major fire in the area, in Cochise County, Ariz., called the Horseshoe Two Fire, has charred about 210,000 acres and destroyed 23 structures since it started May 8.

Diminishing winds Monday should help firefighters battle the blazes, after a week's worth of sustained high winds that helped fuel the fires. A recent drought has also led to dry, dusty conditions that help wildfires thrive.

Along with Arizona, Texas has been the hardest hit. North of Houston, a 14,000-acre blaze is among the largest East Texas has ever seen. The fire has burned 15,000 acres, and temperatures are about 100 degrees. The choking smoke forced a five-hour shutdown of I-45, the only interstate that connects Houston and Dallas.

The Track Fire, straddling the border between New Mexico and Colorado, which began last week near the town of Raton, is now 90 percent contained. But a new fire is burning nine miles north of Santa Fe.

Further east in Georgia, about 200 firefighters have slowed the expansion of a couple of 20,000-acre fires in the southeastern part of that state. Smoke shelters are open in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday because of the noxious fumes resulting from the fires to its northwest.

In California, firefighters are battling a fire that began Sunday morning that has already devoured 5,068 acres from a Kern County oil field to a remote area of eastern San Luis Obispo County. Five water-dropping helicopters are supporting 337 firefighters on the ground, but there have been no reported injuries and only one structure has been destroyed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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